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Wake Up To Politics - January 26, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, January 26, 2018. 284 days until Election Day 2018. 1,012 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Reports: Trump ordered Mueller's firing last June, leading to threat to resign from White House counsel

President Donald Trump ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June, but backed down after White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

According to the Times report, Trump claimed that Mueller had three conflicts of interests that disqualified him from overseeing the Justice Department's Russia investigation: the allegation that Mueller resigned his membership at the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia in a 2011 dispute over fees, his work at the law firm that was then representing Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his interview with Trump for the FBI directorship days before being appointed special counsel.

The report says that Trump ordered McGahn to ask the Justice Department to dismiss Mueller; he refused and said he would quit instead, leading the President to back off. According to the report, Trump also discussed firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in May and has overseen the Russia investigation since Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recusal in March. According to the Times, Mueller "learned about the episode [in which Trump ordered his firing] in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials in his inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice."

Pressed by reporters accompanying him in Davos, Switzerland early this morning, Trump denied the report. "Fake news, folks," the President said. "Fake news. A typical New York Times fake story." However, White House lawyer Ty Cobb, who is coordinating the Administration's cooperation with the Mueller probe, did not deny the report in a statement: "We decline to comment out of respect for the Office of the Special Counsel and its process," he said.

Reached for comment by Wake Up To Politics late Thursday night, Cobb said that he had "nothing to add" to the response he gave to the Times. Cobb told WUTP that he had been "at a family event all night" and had received upwards of 100 calls and emails since the story broke.

Despite the President's dismissal of the story, the Times says that the possibility of Trump firing Mueller remains "an omnipresent concern among the president's legal team and close aides."

The report came on the heels of White House attempts to prove that they are cooperating with the Mueller investigation. In a statement earlier Thursday, Trump's private lawyer John Dowd called the White House's voluntary document production "the most transparent response in history by a president to special counsel inquiries." Dowd said that the White House had provided over 20,000 pages of documents to the Special Counsel, while the campaign had provided over 1.4 million pages, in addition to the 20+ White House personnel who have been voluntarily interviewed.

The New York Times report was later confirmed by the Washington Post, Politico, Fox News, CNN, and NBC News. According to the Post, then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and then-chief of staff Reince Priebus were "incredibly concerned" over the summer that Trump was going to fire Mueller; the report says that Bannon even said in a meeting that such a move would trigger a 25th Amendment challenge to his presidency.

The reports sparked renewed calls among Democratic lawmakers for the passage of bipartisan legislation that would protect Muller from being fired by President Trump, which has been stalled in Congress for months.

--- Flashback: "8 times since June the White House denied Trump was considering firing Mueller" (CNN)

--- Other Russia developments: The Senate Intelligence Committee will release transcripts of "all witness interviews" related to Donald Trump Jr.'s June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, including an interview with Trump Jr. (Washington Post)... The Justice Department has recovered the missing text messages between two former FBI officials (Reuters), and new texts show the agents considering appointing a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton's sue of a private email server (Politico), as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) backs off of his "secret society" claim (CNN)... Trump's private attorney John Dowd says that he "will make the decision" on whether Trump meets with Mueller (CNN).

White House releases immigration framework

The White House outlined legislation on Thursday that would provide a 10-12 year path to citizenship for about 1.8 million undocumented immigrants, while demanding Democrats accept steep limits to legal immigration and funding for President Trump's proposed border wall in exchange.

The framework calls for a $25 billion trust for the border wall, as well as funding to increase the Department of Homeland Security's "tools to deter illegal immigration." Trump's proposed legislation would also end extended-family "chain migration" (which allows immigrants sponsor their relatives for permanent residence status), limiting sponsorships to just spouses and minor children, and end the diversity visa lottery system, which attempts to provide more green cards to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.

In addition, a pathway to citizenship would be provided to individuals who had received protections under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as well as other undocumented immigrants who were eligible to receive DACA protections but didn't apply.

The plan (drafted by immigration hardliners Stephen Miller, the President's senior policy adviser, and John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, according to the New York Times)  met immediate criticism by progressive and conservative immigration activists:

  • Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM): "The White House is using Dreamers to mask their underlying xenophobic, isolationist, and un-American policies, which will harm millions of immigrants living in the United States and millions of others who want to legally immigrate and contribute to our country."
  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): "Today the White House released a hateful, xenophobic immigration proposal that would slash legal immigration to levels not seen since the racial quotas of the 1920s."
  • Immigration advocacy group United We Dream: "Let's call this proposal for what it is: a white supremacist ransom note."
  • Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL): "It would be far cheaper to erect a 50-foot concrete statue of a middle finger and point it towards Latin America, because both a wall and the statue would be equally offensive and equally ineffective."
  • Hardline immigration group NumbersUSA: "NumberUSA has no choice but to oppose what is being suggested as the White House 'framework' for a mass amnesty."
  • Michael Needham, CEO of the conservative Heritage Action: "Amnesty comes in many forms, but it seems they all eventually grow in size and scope. Any proposal that expands the amnesty-eligible population risks opening pandora's box, and could lead to a Gang of Eight style negotiation. That should be a non-starter."
  • Breitbart News headline: "White House Proposal Extends Amnesty for 1.8 Million Illegals In Exchange For 25 Billion For Wall, End of Chain Migration, Visa Lottery"

Meanwhile, most Republican lawmakers praised the framework:

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): "This framework...indicates what is necessary for the president to sign a bill into law. I am hopeful that as discussions continue in the Senate on the subject of immigration, Members on both sides of the aisle will look to this framework for guidance as they work towards an agreement."
  • Sen. David Perdue (R-GA): "The White House framework is something that both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate should be eager to support. We all want a good deal, and here it is.”
  • Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR): "The president's framework is generous and humane, while also being responsible."
  • Spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI): "We’re grateful for the president showing leadership on this issue, and believe his ideas will help us ultimately reach a balanced solution.”

White House senior adviser Stephen Miller told Republican congressional staffers on a conference call that the outline represents a "compromise position that we believe...will get 60 votes in the Senate" and "ultimately will lead to passage of a law," according to Politico.

The Rundown

  • Meehan allegations: Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) informed his campaign staff on Thursday that he will not seek re-election this year, following reports that he used taxpayer dollars to settle a sexual harassment suit by a former female aide. Meehan's retirement opens up a vulnerable district for Republicans, which Hillary Clinton narrowly won in 2016. He is the sixth lawmaker to resign or announce plans to retire amid sexual harassment allegations since the beginning of the #MeToo movement. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • Trump apologizes: In an interview with ITV's Piers Morgan on Thursday, President Trump apologized for retweeting anti-Muslim posts from far-right group Britain First. "If you are telling me they're horrible people, horrible, racist people, I would certainly apologize if you'd like me to do that," Trump said. (ITV)
  • SOTU response: Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) will deliver the official Democratic response to President Trump's State of the Union address next week, party leaders announced. Kennedy, the 37-year-old grandson of Bobby Kennedy and grand-nephew of John F. Kennedy, has served in Congress since 2013 and is seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party. (Boston Globe)
  • #UTSEN: 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is reportedly "stepping up preparations" for a likely Senate bid in Utah, meeting with staff to discuss hiring staff and gaining ballot access. (NBC News)
  • Doomsday clock: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced on Thursday that they have moved the Doomsday Clock -- which reflects how close the world is to potential annihilation -- thirty seconds closer to midnight. The clock is now two minutes away from minutes; it has not been so close since 1953, the height of the Cold War. (New York Times)
  • Palace intrigue: A new trio of reports portrays tension between President Trump and his "Chief," John Kelly:
  • "Trump at odds with Kelly as familiar pattern unfolds" (CNN)
  • "Trump bristles under some of his orderly chief of staff’s restrictions" (Washington Post)
  • "Trump's Impromptu News Conference: An Unplanned Drop-By or a Deliberate Dig" (New York Times)

The President's Schedule: Davos summit

President Donald Trump spends his second and final day at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland today. Trump is scheduled to meet with two world leaders, Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Alain Berset of Switzerland, before outlining his "America First" vision in an address before the summit later in the day. After his speech, Trump will depart Davos, returning to the White House tonight.

Today in Congress

Neither chamber of Congress is in session today.